Presidential elections were held in France on 26 April 1981, with a second round on 10 May. François Mitterrand defeated incumbent president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing to become the first Socialist president of the Fifth Republic. It is the first presidential election in French history that an incumbent president actively seeking reelection is denied a second term.
|Turnout||81.09% (first round) |
85.85% (second round)
In the first round of voting on 26 April 1981, a political spectrum of ten candidates stood for election, and the leading two candidates – Mitterrand and Giscard d'Estaing – advanced to a second round. Mitterrand and his Socialist Party received 51.76% of the vote, while Giscard and his Union for French Democracy trailed with about 48.24%, a margin of 1,065,956 votes.
Electoral system edit
If Giscard's internal political handicaps had effectively "crippled" him in the initial race, the external factors that decided the 1981 election were a deadly blow. Neatly summarized in an article by Hugh Dauncey: "It was Giscard's double misfortune that his presidency should be blighted both by unprecedented economic difficulties, and by a political system which was stubbornly unreceptive to the ouverture and centralist compromise that he required for his reforms to fully succeed". The electoral and party system (political system) in France had, indeed, undergone many critical changes during the previous years. In particular the introduction of the two-round, majority vote requirement played a large role in the election of 1981. The new electoral system divided the various right and left factions within themselves during the first round, but led to right and left polarization during the second round. That forced the right and the left to strategize for both the first and second parts of the election.
In the first round, candidates must present themselves as the better candidate while being careful not to remove all credibility of his/her fellow right or left candidates, as their opponents may have to run again in the next round against the opposing right or left candidate. (It is much the same in US primary elections.)
In the second round, however, total unity must be achieved. That leads to the movement of both groups toward the center, with coalitions between center groups and extremists within the right and left.
Division Tactics edit
The new electoral "rules of the game," was one of the most notable factors that decided the 1981 election. The division within the right between the two main factions, Giscard's Union pour la démocratie française (UDF) and Chirac's neo-Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République (RPR), proved to be the final blow to Giscard (Painton, par. 12). When Chirac lost the "primary," he refused to advise his supporters to back Giscard in the runoff though he stated that he would vote for Giscard. In effect, Chirac refused to endorse Giscard as the sole candidate of the centre-right.
There was also the tactical ingenuity on the part of the Left that brought about Mitterrand's victory. As author Penniman points out, in a shrewd move, the left gained "strength through disunity." The right's disunity between the UDF and RPR factions brought about the downfall of their major candidate. The split between the left's Socialist and Communist Parties, however, allowed the electorate to be more comfortable voting for the Socialists while it gained Communist votes, which were roughly 20% of the electorate.
|Candidate||Party||First round||Second round|
|Valéry Giscard d'Estaing||Union for French Democracy||8,222,432||28.32||14,642,306||48.24|
|François Mitterrand||Socialist Party||7,505,960||25.85||15,708,262||51.76|
|Jacques Chirac||Rally for the Republic||5,225,848||18.00|
|Georges Marchais||French Communist Party||4,456,922||15.35|
|Brice Lalonde||Political Ecology Movement||1,126,254||3.88|
|Arlette Laguiller||Workers' Struggle||668,057||2.30|
|Michel Crépeau||Movement of Radicals of the Left||642,847||2.21|
|Michel Debré||Rally for the Republic (splinter)||481,821||1.66|
|Marie-France Garaud||Rally for the Republic (splinter)||386,623||1.33|
|Huguette Bouchardeau||Unified Socialist Party||321,353||1.11|
|Source: Constitutional Court, Constitutional Court|
- Eder, Richard (11 May 1981). "Mitterrand Beats Giscard; Socialist Victory Reverses Trend of 23 Years in France". The New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
- Bell, David. François Mitterrand: A Political Biography (Polity, 2005).
- Bonfante, Jordan. "Holding Most of the Cards." TIME Europe 23 May 1988. 12 Nov. 2004 .
- Cauchy, Pascal, L'Election d'un notable, Les coulisses de Mai 1981. Paris, Vendemiaire ed.,March 2011.
- Dauncey, Hugh. "The Giscard Presidency 1974–1981: Towards a New France." Contemporary France Online. 12 Nov. 2004 .
- Girardet, Edward. "France Plunges into Socialist Era." Christian Science Monitor. 22 May 1981. LexisNexis. Stetson University Library, DeLand, FL. 22 Nov. 2004 .
- MacCulloch, Nancy and Anita McCarthy, ed. France: History and Culture. Irwindale, CA: Barr Films, 1988. Watched 1 Nov. 2004.
- Mosby, Aline. "Presidential Hopefuls Wage 'Campaign à la Américaine.'" United Press International. 25 Apr. 1981. LexisNexis. Stetson University Library, DeLand, FL. 22 Nov. 2004 .
- Painton, Frederick. "France Chooses Change." TIME Europe 18 May 1981. 12 Nov. 2004 .
- Penniman, Howard, ed. France at the Polls, 1981 and 1986: Three National Elections. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1988.
- Safran, William. The French Polity. New York: Longman, 1998.